Bangor University (2017)

Mapping for Conservation of Native Tilapia Resources in East Africa

Project Details

Grantee Organization: Bangor University
Grant Amount: $264,100
Contact: Dr. George Turner
Contact Email: bss608 'atsign'


East Africa is the major hotspot for diversity of native Oreochromis, the genus that dominates the $5 billion global tilapia farming industry. These unique populations may contain genes for disease resistance or for tolerance of environmental extremes (e.g. salinity or temperature) for evolutionary adaption and useful in aquaculture. However, native tilapia are threatened by invasive exotic tilapia strains stocked from fish farms. Farmed strains stocked into natural water bodies can replace native strains by outcompeting for resources or genetically over-taking them via hybridization. This means that pure native strains may be lost soon after an invasion. Recent surveys have indicated that exotics are now found in many water bodies in Tanzania. Assessing or ameliorating the threat has been hampered by lack of species identification capacity and difficulty in archiving and accessing distribution data. Better characterization of East African native tilapia species distribution and population status is necessary to create effective policy or legislation aimed at their protection. This project aims to facilitate identification and mapping of distributions for remaining populations of native tilapias in Kenya and Tanzania using TilapiaMap, a smartphone application developed by Bangor University and the Tanzania Fisheries Research Institute.

Key Objectives and Activities

  1. Compilation of nation-wide distribution records for both native and non-native tilapia in Kenya and Tanzania using the smartphone app TilapiaMap.
  2. Automate the upload of relevant biodiversity data collected using TilapiaMap into international repositories such as iNaturalist and GBIF, and to national databases such as BIMT (Tanzania) and the NMK catalogue (Kenya).
  3. Strengthen or create links between all partner institutions and additional fisheries and conservation stakeholders in each country to facilitate exchange of knowledge and sharing of data.
  4. Develop reports, visualization tools, and publications appropriate for national and local agencies to draw upon to implement plans for zoned aquaculture in Kenya and Tanzania.

Planned Outputs

  • Expansion of TilapiaMap geographic coverage to Kenya. This will involve updating of species list and field guides.
  • Maintain partnerships between the Tanzania Fisheries Research Institute, the National Museums of Kenya, and Jomo Kenyatta University, and build partnerships with local government fishery and aquaculture officers, fish farmers, NGOs, students, anglers, and citizen scientists in order to populate the TilapiaMap database with high quality distribution records.
  • Recorded distribution records of native and non-native tilapia for all 18 major catchments in Tanzania and Kenya, and for greater than 90% of the minor catchments and sub-basins.
  • Upload greater than 90% of collected data to open access global repositories such as GBIF.
  • Document remaining refuges of native species unaffected by exotic species introduction, highlighting suitable areas for biodiversity conservation.
  • Co-supervision of multiple masters students and at least 3 workshops and stakeholder meetings held​.

Planned Outcomes

This project aims to use smartphone application technology to facilitate identification of remaining populations of native tilapias in Kenya and Tanzania, in addition to building the capacity for this to be monitored and sustained through local agency and citizen science initiatives. The team intends to build links between fish biology researchers and biological database managers, develop sustainable data management plans, and build capacity in the archiving and analysis of data through local and global platforms. The team anticipates that the newly available data will inform policy on zonation of strains used in aquaculture and on importation and distribution of non‐native species, ultimately helping to preserve the genetic diversity of Kenya and Tanzania’s native tilapia.

Last Updated: November 15th, 2017

Project Director Biography

Professor George Turner has worked on African cichlid fishes for over 30 years, specializing the biology of the numerous endemic species from Lake Malawi, as well as the tilapias and other fishes from eastern African rivers and lakes. He works with a range of collaborators within Africa, as well as leading specialists throughout the world, to develop fundamental knowledge of their systematics, behavior, evolution, and genetics, and to try to share this knowledge with policymakers, agencies, and local communities to help to develop fisheries and aquaculture practices that allow for sustainable exploitation of natural populations of these fishes.

Notes from JRS

The JRS Biodiversity Foundation’s Freshwater Biodiversity Program aims to increase the access to biodiversity knowledge for stakeholders in freshwater ecosystems and to harness their demand for knowledge to sustain biodiversity knowledge resources. The partnership led by Bangor University holds promise to lower the costs and technical requirements for mapping tilapia species in East Africa and assessing their status and economic potential.  A challenge facing the team will be building an efficient quality control process for record identification and publication into public data resources. This project’s success could be easily transferable to other countries with similar interests in biodiversity conservation and fisheries resource development.

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